If you haven’t seen The Blind Side (Warner Brothers), you’re missing one of the great films from 2009. It’s based on the true story of a remarkable Christian family, the Tuohys, and an equally remarkable young man and future football star from the Memphis, Tennessee projects, Michael Oher.
The Blind Side is a powerful story of redemption that struck a resonant chord with me because the heroine is a Christian mom with grit. Spunk. Pluck. Call it whatever you want. Leigh Anne Tuohy can and does go toe-to-toe with obstinate high school teachers, coaches, skeptical friends, drug pushers, and gang bangers. Leigh Anne is smart, sensitive, compassionate, and generous. And she’s no cream puff. You don’t mess with Leigh Anne. You especially don’t mess with her family, which includes Michael when the Tuohys become “Big Mike’s” legal guardians.
Besides the inspiring story, what I appreciated most about The Blind Side is that a Christian woman is portrayed as something other than a meek and mild subordinate, glitzy sidekick, or an anemic “helper.” Leigh Anne is something rarely seen as an example of “biblical womanhood”: a powerful agent of rescue. Let me explain.
I’d always been taught that “biblical womanhood” looks like Suzy Homemaker, June Cleaver, Betty Crocker, and Martha Stewart. From childhood Sunday school through graduation from a top Christian liberal arts university to conferences; from women’s retreats and Bible studies to bestselling books and countless sermons on the subject, the inevitable message was: Men are divinely designed as strong leaders and women are followers. “Masculine” means leadership, assertiveness, decisiveness, and headship. “Feminine” means docile, quiet, retiring, subordinate, and “nice.” My role as a wife was to submit to and follow my husband’s leadership and wait for permission from men to serve. That was The Biblical Model. Period. Anything different was anathema.
I bought that gender model for nearly fifty years. I didn’t know any better. Trouble was, I’ve never really gotten the hang of that Suzy/June/Betty/Martha thing. It just isn’t me. Thinking the model I’d grown up with was soundly and solely biblical, however, I thought I was the problem. So I spent more than forty years shoehorning myself into a “gender role” that fit like a rhino in leotards. It never occurred to me that the “problem” wasn’t me, but the model.
For decades, every diagnostic tool or “spiritual inventory assessment” I took indicated strong gifting in leadership, teaching, and administration. But I was always taught—and I always believed—that because of my gender, those gifts were properly exercised within the contexts of women’s or children’s ministry. Teaching and leading a mixed gender adult fellowship, small group, or class were out-of-bounds. Church leadership and pulpit preaching were “testosterone-only” zones. I would be happily accepted as a church secretary, bulletin-board decorator, kitchen helper, or children’s Sunday school teacher, but even raising the question of serving in more prominent church leadership was a “no-no.” A big one. And you didn’t go there—unless you wanted to be accused of “usurping authority,” being “insubordinate,” or that other problem word, a “liberal.” (This always struck me as curious, since I self-identify as a “conservative evangelical” with a high view of Scripture.)
I wondered, “Is a strong, capable Christian female that threatening? Is the concept of a ‘strong Christian woman’ unbiblical, or an oxymoron? How? Why?”
It didn’t add up. I’ve never been interested in “threatening” or “usurping” anything from anyone. Nor am I “anti-male.” I’m not about disrespect or demanding “rights” or “power.” I’m about a biblically sound, biblically balanced, and biblically accurate view of gender.
In 2007, I participated in a “Proverbs 31” women’s Bible study associated with our former church. I did something in that group I’d never done before: I began wondering if what I’d always been taught regarding “biblical womanhood,” “a wife’s role,” and so on was indeed The Biblical Model. I started asking questions. I soon discovered that you don’t ask some questions unless you want to be the featured event at the next piñata party.
As a result, I pondered further: If the hierarchical view of gender—the permanent subordination of women to men—instead of an egalitarian, mutual view is indeed The Biblical Model, shouldn’t it be able to stand up to scrutiny? If this is really God’s design, it can handle some honest investigation!
I saw women heading corporations, universities, and countries; serving in courtrooms, the medical world, think tanks, and the media; and as governors, in Congress, and as Secretary of State, but these same capable, gifted women were excluded from church leadership based on their gender. Do their skills and gifts mysteriously vanish when they walk through the church door on Sunday morning? (Dr. Philip Payne addresses this in his masterful work, Man and Woman: One in Christ, Zondervan, 2009.)
Little Did We Know…
A short time later, my husband Chris (who has a degree in biblical studies and theology and who can read the New Testament in the original Greek) and I embarked on a grand adventure with God. Setting aside our preconceptions, we asked God what he thought about men and women. And we listened. We started an intense review of the biblical text, digging deep. Bible in hand, we also read thousands of pages related to gender and gender roles, from the far left to the far right and all points in between. We prayed, discussed, and dialogued. We attended conferences and seminars. And we read and discussed some more.
We inched out of the “hierarchical complementarianism” camp. Why? Short answer: Because, proof-texting aside, we didn’t see it supported by the whole counsel of Scripture. Chris and I eventually embraced mutuality as God’s design because we’re convinced from the text that gender hierarchies and top-down pecking orders aren’t God’s design at all. And I began to recognize that the Lord Jesus turned the world upside down in the way he interacted with and treated women.
The more I read about the Lord Jesus without my blinders, the more I fell in love with him. Again. To cite just one example from Scripture, my wonderful Savior first revealed himself as Messiah not to his disciples, nor to a Jew, or to a man! Check out John 4: Jesus first revealed his true identity to a woman—and a Samaritan woman at that! This is the only time prior to his trial that Jesus specifically says he is the Messiah. Was this an accident, or was Jesus saying something—something significant?
In a time and culture when no Jewish male, let alone a rabbi, would be caught dead with a female in broad daylight, Jesus not only engaged the Samaritan woman, but he effectively made her the first evangelist! Remember how she high-tailed it back to her village and told everyone about this incredible man she met at the well? Verse 39 says, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (emphasis added). And to whom did Jesus first appear after he exploded out of the garden tomb, defeating death and the grave? That’s right: Mary Magdalene (see John 20:10–18). According to John, the first word of the resurrected Christ is, “Woman” (see John 20:15).
Are these “coincidences”—or is Jesus trying to tell us something?
“Powerful Agents of Rescue”
The more Chris and I studied, the more often our jaws hit the floor. One question we couldn’t get around: Why do some Christians base gender roles on the fall rather than the resurrection?
As Mimi Haddad writes:
I discovered (from Scripture) my dignity and worth as a female, created like Eve, to bring a special version of rescue to our world. Our task as ezer is not to wait for permission from men to serve. My vocation comes from God, who from the beginning created me as a powerful agent of rescue” (Mutuality, Spring 2010).
That’s why The Blind Side and the mission of CBE resonate with me. And Michael Oher? Thanks to the love of the Tuohys and the indomitable Leigh Anne, “Big Mike” graduated from ‘Ole Miss, where he became an All-American and first-round National Football League draft pick. I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened to Michael if spunky, feisty, “stand the world on its ear” Leigh Anne hadn’t been in his corner, cheering him on, refusing to take no for an answer. I also wonder what other “Michaels” might find hope, healing, and purpose if more strong, ezer women shed gender myths and stereotypes and become who we are created to be: “powerful agents of rescue.”